Civil Rights Coalition Calls on Senators to Prevent Worker and Minority Abuse in Class Action Bill

Media 02.4,05

Saying it is vital to protect the workplace and civil rights of ordinary Americans, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR), the nation’s oldest, largest, and most diverse civil and human rights coalition, today called on U.S. Senators to support an amendment to be offered by Senators Ted Kennedy and Maria Cantwell to pending class action legislation (S. 5).

“The United States Senate should not throw out the baby of worker and minority rights with the bathwater of curtailing class-action lawsuits,” said Nancy Zirkin, LCCR deputy director. “There is absolutely no evidence that lawsuits brought by workers seeking justice in state courts on issues ranging from overtime pay to working off the clock are abusing the system. To the contrary, failure to exempt such lawsuits in this legislation is an abusive act against every hard-working American seeking fair pay and a better life.”

LCCR explained that state courts are the correct venue to litigate wage-and-hour issues. Different states have different laws. Forcing all wage-and-hour lawsuits into federal court will not work because of the extraordinary difficulty of reconciling so many different state laws. “Nearly all of the wage-and-hour and anti-discrimination lawsuits brought in state courts are brought by in-state workers against companies operating in that state,” continued Zirkin.

“Furthermore,” said Zirkin, “I am truly shocked that so many Senators who are avowed advocates of state’s rights would so cavalierly turn on their own states and constituents to support a bill that will eviscerate state employment and civil rights laws.”

“The Senate should demonstrate that it is not anti-worker and not anti-state. The fact is that many state labor laws provide greater protections for workers such as broader overtime rights and benefits for part-time workers. Furthermore, many states have stronger laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability, ancestry, genetic information, parenthood, sexual orientation, or familial status,” said Zirkin. “And although there are strong federal civil rights laws, many states have stronger civil rights laws on the books. Without an exemption, passage of S. 5 would have a chilling effect on other states considering stronger civil rights legislation.”

“To protect the civil rights of workers and minorities, the Senate should exempt state wage-and-hour and civil rights actions from the Class Action Fairness Act by passing the amendment offered by Senators Kennedy and Cantwell,” Zirkin urged.

Since its founding in 1950, LCCR has provided a powerful unified voice for the various constituencies of the coalition: persons of color, women, children, individuals with disabilities, gays and lesbians, older Americans, labor unions, major religious groups and civil liberties and human rights groups. Today, more than 50 million persons belong to the 180 organizations that form LCCR, and, while the organizations continue to advance their respective goals, inherent to their success is their membership in LCCR, the coalition that unifies and amplifies the voices of those who share a common vision of equal opportunity, justice and mutual respect.